SAINTS pre-season training is well under way and the St Helens Star’s Mike Critchley caught up with coach Justin Holbrook at Cowley to get some updates.

MC: What specifically do the players get out of this period of pre-season training?

JH: A mixture of things. Gone are the days when it was all conditioning.

We don’t have a long time in pre-season so it is about getting everything in and a real focus on getting individuals up to speed so there’s no real team-specific training leading up to Christmas.

But I think that is good because you improve as a player; you continue to do what you do well but work on weaknesses or areas of improvement to be ready for the way we want to play.

MC: Is there anything tweaked already to take into account how last year ended – or will that come later on in the schedule?

JH: Later on. It is hard when you finish the way we did because you want to tip everything upside down and throw it out.

When you calm down you realise we won 26 out of 30 games and were obviously doing things right at that early part of the year.

We want to keep that, but tweak things later in the year to win the big games.

I am confident we got pre-season right last year - given the way we started - and I want to make sure we get it right again this season.

MC: How important is the addition of the three NRL guys?

JH: Having those those three is good in terms of their leadership and experience.

We have got good young guys – Jack Ashworth, Matty Lees, a first full season from Danny Richardson, and with Regan Grace and Morgan Knowles there too – that is a really good crop of young players who have got a lot of games under their belt now.

Throw in some some senior blokes, including the England lads ­— and we saw how well they played ­— and the three new guys and I am really happy with our squad and I am looking forward to next year.

MC: Lachlan Coote is a different player to Ben Barba. How important will he be, particularly his left foot kicking game?

JH: It is really important to have a left footer and put them on the left hand side of the field.

That adds to the variety we can offer with our kicking game so I think that is going to be real strength for us next year, which is an important part of the game.

He won’t be as explosive as Ben Barba, but not many players are. But with how well we are right across the pitch I think it is going to be a good, settled side.

MC: Will Kevin Naiqama bring that bit of dynamism?

JH: He will bring a real spark – he is fast, strong and elusive. He will be a great addition.

MC: Do you think the fans will take to him and get out of their seats?

JH: Hopefully. That is what he is here for and that is what he is good at.

It has been great so far in training - the boys have already mocked the Kevin de Bruyne song from Man City, and substituted the de Bruyne for Naiqama and it will soon catch on.

He has fitted in well and looking for a good year.

MC: Any significance in giving Joseph Paulo the 12 shirt or is he an out and out loose forward?

JH: Paulo is loose forward despite the numbers. I don’t like the numbering system here, and prefer 1-17 every week because it makes it so hard.

You try to move a player and then that is a number that they have played in for years.

As a coach it is difficult and I don’t enjoy locking numbers in for the whole year. But it is what it is - I am not trying to change it, just letting you know that I don’t like it.

MC: How will Paulo’s time on the field dovetail with the other players who have been playing 13?

JH: Paulo can play long minutes. but I m not planning on him doing that because it is too hard in the middle.

Wilko was one of the hardest workers we had – and the best thing I did was to reduce his minutes and keep the quality in and I will do the same with Joseph.

MC: With that in mind where do you envisage LMS and Morgan Knowles getting their minutes from?

JH: They can both adjust into other positions, both can play back row if Dom needs a rest. Louie can play front row so there is plenty of versatility.

MC: What impact do you expect from England boys when they return?

JH: They will come back with some confidence. Percy was unlucky not to play but the three that played were probably the three best for England.

The best thing for them was being able to play straight after the disappointment of September.

They got to do something about it and did it in great fashion and did themselves and the club really proud and will come back more confidence, which is a good thing.

It is hard, they have more rest in the NRL but their season only starts in March, ours starts in January.

We had the same the year before with the World Cup and started that well enough. It is a short break but still important.

MC: There has been paper talk linking the club with Gareth Widdop?

JH: It is all news to me. I hear one day he is homesick and wants to come home and then next day is staying at the Dragons.

I read a few times last year of players linked here who neither I or the club had spoken of so I don’t know how it all comes about.